There was a huge cultural festival taking place on the week-end that we were in Derry in Northern Ireland. Folks were celebrating St. Colmcille, who was the founder of the city. In the wake of a great battle about 1,500 years ago, St. Colmcille had apparently left Ireland for the remote island of Iona, Scotland. This festival marked his imagined return to the city.
In spite of all the merriment, I have to admit to feeling a bit on edge the entire time I was in Derry. While there is no longer any outright fighting between the Loyalists and Nationalists, I got the sense that strong feelings were bubbling away barely below the surface.
Two stories: Joe and I were in a restaurant eating lunch. A man came in who appeared to be under the influence. The staff wouldn’t serve him. Angry, he grabbed a balloon attached to a baby carriage in the restaurant and stamped on it, causing a huge loud bang that made us all jump. The noise was so loud; it sounded like a gun going off.
Later, Joe and I were walking in the area of Derry known as ‘Bogside’, where much of the unrest took place in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. I was looking at the large murals painted to mark some of the big events during the Troubles. All of a sudden a water balloon exploded on the ground just inches from my feet. I looked around and couldn’t figure out who had thrown it or where it had come from. Joe said it was probably just some kid playing a joke. Maybe, but regardless, I felt uneasy.